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By Mary Chang
on Friday, 15th March 2013 at 3:14 pm
I still don’t really understand why none of my British friends are fans of Reverend and the Makers. And when in Rome, err…Austin, you take an opportunity to speak to the Rev himself, frontman Jon McClure, to talk about the support system back in Sheffield, the band’s reception here in America and their first album release here in the States after the band’s winning performance at the Wednesday British Music Embassy day showcase at Latitude 30. Listen to the interview below.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 15th March 2013 at 3:05 pm
Singer Adam Kane of Brighton’s dream pop band Cave Painting was kind enough to sit down with me before the band’s performance on Wednesday’s British Music Embassy day showcase at Latitude 30. We talked about the band’s musical influences, their wonderful debut album ‘Votive Life’ released last year and much more. Listen to the interview below.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 13th March 2013 at 3:00 pm
Brooklyn’s The Dig came to Austin just prior to the official kick-off of SXSW 2013 this week, first to play a show at Clive Bar as part of the Brooklyn Brewery’s showcase there on Sunday night (10 March), and then at the indoor stage at Stubb’s on the Monday night (11 March). But before their set on Monday, I grabbed the guys, headed for a tranquil spot by the river, and chatted with them about their arduous journey to get to Austin by van, new material headed our way and much more. Listen below.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 13th March 2013 at 11:00 am
Ahead of their appearance at SXSW 2013, Cheryl sat down with brothers David and Joe Dunwell of the Leeds band The Dunwells before their show in DC in mid-February to talk about country music, alphabet soup radio stations and buskers with dogs.
Welcome, is this your first time in DC?
David: Second time in DC, we did a small show during the last tour, so that was in 2011. Hmmmm, oh yes, we were at the Birchmere [which is really outside of the city in Alexandria, Virginia]. Originally, we came to America and came to Memphis for the first time, that’s where we met our management and they brought us back out to record our album.
I am confused on the trajectory of your album, how many times has it been released?
Joe: It’s only been released twice. It was released under an independent label called Playing in Traffic and was released in February 2012. Then it was re-released when we got resigned, and the album got repackaged and we added a few new tracks, but the same title for the album and was out the 28th of August of last year. So it’s a year old in theory, but it feels like it’s just been released.
So did you get a chance to see anything of the city before load in?
Joe: We didn’t. Today has been a hectic day. We did radio all over the place. WRNR in Annapolis and Sirius FM and……
I don’t mean to put you on the spot
David: There are so many letters in your radio stations.
Yeah at home you just have numbers – 1, 2, 6. It’s a lot harder to do it over here. You basically have to get on Sirius or a tv show.
Joe: Sirius is playing us, so that’s good. The Pulse is the one playing us.
I saw that you put out the EP ‘Leaving the Rose’, what inspired doing that?
Joe: That’s kind of just to keep the buzz going in the UK because we are spending so much time in America. Just to have something in the UK to let them know we’re not ditching them. We love the UK and we are looking forward to being back in Yorkshire.
David: We had an amazing opportunity in Los Angeles to do an acoustic session at the Village Recorder, loads of people have recorded there like the Rolling Stones, and Biffy Clyro were in that studio. So we were really excited. It was this magical day where we set up in a circle and we started playing the acoustic versions of the songs.
How did you pick ‘Hide & Seek’ – which is my favourite Imogen Heap song ever?
David: We just love the song.
Joe: I played it one night, and Jonny was there and liked it and it’s been in our back catalogue and history quite a while.
I have to say, it’s is perfect. And while the EP is only available in the UK, so I can’t get it, I was thrilled to find that ‘Hide & Seek’ is available as a free download from your web site. (I later discovered they were selling the EP at the gig, so I did get to buy it!)
Have you been doing anything else, writing on the road while you are here?
David: We are always writing, we always have to be prepared. To be honest, writing is something that we do to wind down as a band. Just to sit and write music is a pleasure. So we’ve actually done loads this tour. It’s also useful to be able to keep changing the set around and play new songs while we’re playing.
So we will hear something that’s not on the album tonight?
Yeah you will. It’s fun for us.
I hear a lot of influences of American country music in your songs. Is that something that you grew up with?
Joe: That’s unintentional, I think it comes from the style of guitar playing, the five part harmonies adds a country twist to it.
David: We’re a fan of American music, I don’t think five lads from Leeds really knew that we were fans of country – that wasn’t really a goal, we were just fans of American music in general. But I take that as a complement that you hear that in our music.
It seems that you are riding the current wave of alt-folk/folk-rock thing here, is that something you set out for or was organically how the music came about?
Joe: We just play our music and see what happens. A lot of people have come up to us and said, “your time is now”, but how do you ever know when you time is? We’ve been slugging it out for 3 and a half years and we just love what we’re doing.
David: Folk rock did not just disappear and gone oh this is good and been brought out of the box again.
But it certainly is in a resurgence. I’m covering a lot of that right now.
David: But there have been folk-rock bands playing for ages and haven’t had the media attention and now all of a sudden they do.
Do you listen to that on your own? Because I am always surprised at how different the music is that artists listen to compared to what they produce.
David: I’m definitely a folk rock fan. I love singer-songwriter style.
Joe: The Frames, Damien Rice, Glen Hansard, English bands like Elbow and Radiohead, so mishmash all that together.
David: American influences come from Ryan Adams and singer/songwriters like that as well.
Mentioning Glen, did you guys used to do a lot of busking early on? Did you ever have a really funny stories like when the guy stole all his money in ‘Once’?
Joe: We did used to do a fair amount of busking because we used to play a lot of pubs and clubs. But no, nothing funny, there were a lot better buskers out there than us. There was a guy with three dogs. He took all the credit. They’d bark along to his songs, they were great .
The opening track on your album (‘I Could Be a King’) I hear of Of Monsters and Men in it, big time. I’m sure you get compared to a lot of different artists right now. Who do you think has been the most favourable comparison that you’ve gotten?
Joe: That’s the first comparison to Of Monsters and Men. We’ve been compared to Mumford and Sons a lot which isn’t a bad thing because 1) they’re a great band, and 2) they are doing amazing well, they’ve kind of opened the floodgates for this kind of music right now.
Have you heard of Milo Greene from LA? They have five members and four lead singers, so you are only one off! But they literally say they have no lead singer and rotate through everyone except the drummer. How do you decide who’s going to take lead on a song?
David: Whether it’s the person who wrote the song, or who had the idea for the song, normally they take the lead vocal. But normally you can feel it as well, Joe’s got a really big powerful voice that sits on top of the big loud parts so Joe would take the big choruses.
Being brothers and cousins and school chums, how does that work in with how you deal with your music? Does familiarity breed contempt or is the longevity what gets you through?
David: We’ve all known each other for such a long time, but we’ve got such different tastes in music it makes it quite interesting when we come together to rehearsal spaces and fight it out. That’s how we get the results that we are all happy with. We make sure that we try to listen to everybody and get everybody’s ideas on the table.
You said that with a huge grin, does that mean there is a lot of fighting?
(laughter) David: No, no fighting’s not the word!
Joe: We have five big personalities in the band and I think that’s what gets us through.
If you could duet with someone, who would you want it to be?
David: I would love to stand in on one of Coldplay’s tours, that would be wonderful to sing a song with Chris Martin.
Joe: Guy Garvey from Elbow. I’ve been listening to the back catalog of his stuff and he just a very clever man.
Well thank you so much for talking the time to talk to me, see you out there.
Cosmo Jarvis isn’t quite a household name. Yet. The proud author of hundreds of songs, four albums, including a double, and a self-penned, produced and directed feature film, Jarvis’s career trajectory is slowly but surely upwards. Anyone familiar with his work will be aware of the heart-on-sleeve autobiographical nature of many of his songs, along with a powerful ability to tell an engaging and thought-provoking story. TGTF was lucky enough to be able to catch a few words with the man himself before the gig, which we will come to in a moment. But what of the gig itself? There’s no polite way to say this – from his hooded lids to gently shuffling demeanour, Jarvis appears a bit stoned. The band is mostly electric tonight, so the more delicate arrangements are abandoned for a faster, barer approach.
Favourite ‘Love This’ is rushed through in the first couple of songs, and the fear is that some more subtle moments might be lost in the mayhem. But as Jarvis becomes more comfortable with the limelight, things settle down, and the set broadens out into a fine run through of Jarvis’s best moments so far. He’s clearly a fine guitarist, the voice sounds big and powerful, and I’m reliably informed that the man himself is considered to be very attractive to the opposite sex… or to the same sex, for that matter. In a welcome contrast to the modest sets becoming all too commonplace, he kicks on for well over 90 minutes, with little pause. When there is a break in the set, the shout of “Look at the sky!” is rewarded with a rendition of that very song. As a new Jarvis composition, and with the potential to be a true breakthrough track, it bears mention here. A wide-eyed ballad, with a loping, downtempo feel, Jarvis breaks out his finest Transatlantic accent and emotes like his life depended on it, which in a way it does. It’s got great commercial potential, but still contains a gently sardonic lyric, even when it on the surface it’s a love song. Great stuff.
Inevitably the set ends with ‘Gay Pirates’, but there’s few songs which could bring a set to a close so well and with such a final crescendo. There’s such a breadth to the material on offer here tonight, the audience are left with a feeling of tired sufficiency, which of course is a fine excuse to head downstairs to the bar and mull things over with a few pints of imported lager. Milling around in the bar afterwards are Jarvis’s cohorts Dave Egan and Tom Hannaford, co-stars in The Naughty Room, deputising as roadies, merch stand guys, and whatever other tasks they can perform to keep the Cosmo show running. There is the sense that this is a little family business, running on goodwill and a shoestring budget, the absolute opposite of the big corporate shindig going on across town. And all the better for it in terms of credibility.
Before the show, TGTF had a quick chat with Jarvis. He comes across as lucid, easy-going, and utterly candid, with no hesitation in answering some of the more personal questions put to him. This is how it went:
Why do you make the music you do?
I didn’t really try anything else. Music was always the thing. I felt a need to make pieces which were thorough and credible in themselves, and which had to have a good reason to be made in the first place – be that a message, or a story, or a moral argument the audience was supposed to take away from the song. It’s very easy to make a three-minute song that’s just a throwaway description of something. I like proper ideas, fictional stories that are pieced together into a rhyming narrative.
Such as ‘Love This’, where you take on God?
He pisses me off a little bit sometimes. What I find incomprehensible is that some people are incapable of seeing the truth of the point of view expressed within that song. I find the fact that they refuse to consider the fact that their belief may be false more frustrating than the belief in itself. For me it wouldn’t be a lack of faith that would stop me believing, it would be my realising something else; rational thought if you will. Good [not God] isn’t necessary for anything other than our own well-being. Things will still live and die and nobody cares if that happens. We are clearly the ones that need good to be around – to prevent genocide or whatever. So we should be the ones to globalise its necessity, rather than localising it to a God, a God that will limit us in other ways. ‘It was meant to be,’ they always say. Unbelievable.
What’s it like growing up in Devon? You can hear the Southwest influence in your music.
Living in Devon, you’re automatically at a disadvantage if you want to do anything: it’s isolated, and not just geographically. If you’re from there, it doesn’t have a lot going for it. People don’t realise that there are real regular human beings living in the beautiful place of Devon – it’s not all sheep and fields. If you’re skint in Devon, it’s worse than if you’re skint anywhere else. At least in a city there’s things to do, there’s options – all there is in Devon is the pub.
That aspect of Plymouth is pretty well documented in ‘The Naughty Room’.
All the guys in the film, like Dave Egan who plays Subaru, are from Devon; they improvise around the lines that I write, so what you hear is a true reflection of Devon culture. I’m working on next movie with him as well – it’s called Abandonhope, a black comedy about a really vile metal band from Plymouth, who are really skilled at what they do, but they’re making music that doesn’t really need to be made, and that’s what the rest of the world seems to think about them. It’s really about competing with your father’s success, and escaping becoming your father yourself. The character Howard’s father used to be a big metal-head in the ‘80s, but he’s now heavily into drugs, and they play out a stubborn relationship and uncompromising view when it comes to the art of metal, which is their downfall. It’s about realising that you can escape the fate of turning out how your parents wanted you to.
Which brings us to the topic of parents. If I may say, there’s an Oedipal aspect to ‘The Naughty Room’…
I had a very, very weird upbringing. That’s where it comes from, definitely. I try not to let it manifest itself too much in Lars von Trier-like depictions of personal fantasies, but many of the wider viewpoints the story needs to exist, the opinionated philosophies of the film, are because of my background.
But your upbringing doesn’t seem to have held you back – you’re taking inspiration from it…
It’s only bad if you’re very traditional and you go by what society expects your relationship with your parents to be – and I happened to grow up comfortably deviating from that. But at the same time I learned very useful things from people who weren’t my family, and I saw early on that parents are very flawed human beings, with fucked-up heads, agendas, and things they can’t say to you because they’re afraid of how you’ll see them… And to a certain extent you have to take them at face value… until they snuff it! They’re proud of what I’m doing, but it’s still a weird relationship.
Do you feel mainstream?
Do you want to be?
No. Definitely not. Not any more, not after I heard Ludacris confirming what I suspected about the music industry, they whole soundvertising thing, where these girls will be sponsored by soft drinks companies to make music. Professor Green’s got his big advert doing the same thing. With that comes the death of artistic integrity, which is the part I’m dreading. All along the way, I was constantly advised to do the right “business” thing, to change my approach and not piss off Radio1, rather than do what I thought was right for my music at the time. [Presumably a reference to the Radio 1 ban on potential breakthrough single ‘Gay Pirates’ for using the phrase “gang rape”.]
It would be good for the mainstream to at least acknowledge my shit. But I don’t want to be ass-kissed like they ass-kiss Ben Howard.
After which TGTF went off on a tangent asking questions about the technicalities of guitar technique which are far too dull to be repeated here. So let’s just let that last, pertinent answer hang in the air for a second: “I don’t want to be ass-kissed like they ass-kiss Ben Howard.” As fate would have it, two important live shows were happening in London that night, and the other one was the Brit Awards. Indeed, it’s quite possible that Ben Howard was collecting his second Brit of the evening just as Cosmo Jarvis was invoking his name. The comparison between the two artists is entirely appropriate. Both are roughly the same age. Both are from pretty much the same place in Devon. Both are acoustic-y singer-songwriters. The figures are entirely in Howard’s favour – his only full-length album reached number four in the UK, whereas none of Jarvis’ four albums have troubled the charts.
Jarvis boasts a decent 1.5-million views of ‘Gay Pirates’, but Howard dwarfs that with 8 million views even of his pointless cover of Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Call Me Maybe’, and similar figures for his own material. Howard makes music for coffee tables bought from Next, Jarvis’s voice sounds like he’s just about to cough up a coffee table. Howard makes music that’s as inoffensive as a pint of milk, Jarvis releases a single that questions the very existence of God and then offers to take him for a cup of something Fairtrade. Jarvis releases 9-minute epics featuring stream-of-consciousness questionings of his own sanity, Howard releases safe, four-minute dirges which endlessly repeat the same tired platitudes. Howard is a poster-boy for bland, safe, pointless, unit-shifting music for people who know no better, who have never been exposed to anything more exciting than Pinot Grigio and oven chips, and probably don’t want to be.
Jarvis is an unashamed British eccentric-savant, encapsulating the true meaning and heritage of folk music, executed in a range of different musical and visual forms – imagine Bob Dylan brought up in Devon with an always-on internet connection. Howard spent Wednesday night supping champagne and being photographed by the world’s media; Jarvis spent it slightly stoned, in front of a rapt crowd in a north London pub, being photographed by TGTF. Howard has two Brits, Jarvis has none, and even though that’s the way it should be, it says everything you need to know about the cynicism of the pop music machine as expressed through the prism of mainstream media. One final comparison: Jarvis will still be making music in 10 years’ time, and probably for the rest of his life… but Howard? I’m not so sure.
Us here at TGTF Towers are all abuzz about the new Stornoway album, which comes out in March on 4AD. Ahead of that, Carrie posed some of her burning questions to the Oxford quartet’s very tall, South African bassist Oli Steadman, who kindly and thoughtfully answered them.
I’m a newcomer to Stornoway, and I fell in love with ‘Tales from Terra Firma’ before I ever heard Beachcomber’s Windowsill (via Spotify). How is ‘Tales from Terra Firma’ different from ‘Beachcomber’s Windowsill’? How was the writing and recording process different? Is the sequence important, or can each album be taken as a discrete unit?
‘Beachcomber’s…’ was a collection of pretty much unrelated musical trinkets, ramshackle explorations in music as a hobby. The assortment was assembled over 5 years and tells some stories from our first days as a group, in terms of its lyrics and its production, being made in bedrooms and kitchens around Oxford.
The experiences and travelling which ‘Beachcomber’s’ brought us, were inspirational for much of the writing on ‘Tales…’. We hope it’s a more cohesive sequence of songs, with a bit more of a focus and direction. The songs try to relate true experiences that happened to us – to do that, we’ve arranged the songs with some varied instrumentation and styles, anything we could find to reflect emotions melodically, and invite the listener into these shared experiences with us.
So we hope it’s a more mature album sonically and lyrically – although we did use pretty much the same recording method. Zoom multitrack recorder plus an old XIX Pure microphone, the same we’ve used on all our vocals since day one… with many cups of tea and surrounded by outlandish instruments like the qanun (‘Knock Me on the Head’) and mbira (Hook Line Sinker).
Do you have any commentary on Spotify? Has it been worthwhile for you to have your music available to listeners that way?
I appreciate using Spotify, it means I listen to a lot more music than I would otherwise. After reading Electric Eden by Rob Young for example, I was able to plug in to this whole English folk music collection right there, which wouldn’t have been as easy without the service. I’m also rediscovering my South African roots and finding a lot of old Zulu Maskandi recordings. There is very little video record of this available, so YouTube is not an option, and the artists don’t send their discs to the UK. Without Spotify, I’d just have my terribly out of date CD collection…
In the same way I’m glad people can discover our music for free/cheap using Spotify. As an extreme model of selling recorded music, I quite like the idea of an album as a business card. You hand it out for free/cheap on services like Spotify, and once people listen and discover you, then they’ll pay to come to a gig. When new music is so easy to find and hear, a fan can make their judgments about which artists they love, and taste is truly free, tather than previously, where fans were being restricted by what was in the charts. Online streaming is helping democratise music and wrest control from the bigger labels and their billboards.
My favorite track on ‘Tales From Terra Firma’ is ‘The Great Procrastinator’. I especially love the woodwinds on this track. Was that a fun one to record, and do you enjoy performing it live? Which song on the album is your favorite? What are some of the challenges of performing the songs live vs. recording them in the studio?
Thanks! It was the one we recorded in the East Oxford Community Centre, where we previously did ‘Zorbing’ and ‘Watching Birds’. The band played the song together in whole takes, and laid the clarinets over at the end – I got to dust off my old instrument from high school.
We enjoy playing it live; it’s seemed to be a crowd favourite on this first tour. [It] can be tough reproducing it live because I can’t play four clarinets and double bass at once – and we can’t hire a clarinet quartet – so we’ve arranged it for muted trumpets and violin instead. The same goes for the other songs – some instruments are only used in a single song each night… so we have to be imaginative and economise in our live arrangements. Our new general dogsbody Tom Hodgson is playing qanun, dulcimer, keyboard, trumpet and woodsaw, and he’s only been with the band 2 weeks’ gigging.
I read that you recently had a rather unique opportunity to perform on a boat for Sounds from a Room in London. What was that like?
After watching the other artists they’d had – Charlie Fink, Jarvis Cocker, Baaba Maal, Tune-yards and Andrew Bird – we were honoured and amazed to be invited to close the Room For London’s year of gigging. The boat’s logbook was full of those guys’ whimsical observations of the surreal atmosphere. It was a strange place to spend the 2 nights.
As I listened to ‘Tales from Terra Firma’, I kept imagining the songs being performed in a chamber setting, almost like a traditional art song recital. Are your songs intended for performance in large venues, or do you see yourselves as being more like chamber musicians, performing in more intimate settings?
We love unplugging for the occasional song even during our electric gigs in big theatres, and sometimes we have the chance to do full sets of acoustic arrangements like in the Room For London. In the older traditional venues, e.g., Mr. Kyps in Poole and in Oxford’s Town Hall on this tour, audiences seemed to really appreciate this. Much of our new album can be performed in this way, unlike ‘Beachcomber’s’, so we expect to be doing it a lot more in future!
Again, as a newcomer to your music, I don’t know much about your background, so I should ask a more general question—do any of you have any formal music training at all? I ask because you used such a wide variety of instruments on ‘Tales From Terra Firma’; were any of those new to you? Did you have to take the time to learn to play them, or do you simply experiment with them until you get the sound you want?
Brian was a boy chorister in Bristol, Jon learned classical piano and cello. Rob and I come from South Africa where we mostly learned percussion and group singing… Because of the age range in the band, we all have some different listening tastes. As a result, each new song arrangement starts with no preconceptions or destination – we just try to hear the lyrical sentiment and head together in the direction it most strongly suggests, adding new instruments as we go. If that means learning a new Mediterranean instrument, e.g., the qanun for ‘Knock Me on the Head’, Jon’s always willing!
One thing that particularly strikes me, on both albums, is the lilting, legato style of the singing. Some of the backing vocals almost have a college glee club feel to them. Are the vocals something you particularly focus on? Have any of you had any formal voice training, or is this a natural sound for you?
In ‘The Great Procrastinator’, we imagined a village pub with beer in mugs on tables and a jug band joining in boisterously. The East Oxford Community Centre seemed best to realise this idea; we all stood around the one mic and tried to match each other while maintaining some beery warbles. In other songs where we overdub vocals one by one, we like experimenting with the room to get a good match between our voices. It may all be down to the microphone we use – the same one we’ve always had on our vocals since the very first demos for ‘Beachcomber’s’. It’s cheap, ancient and ‘Made in Thailand’…but has always worked well with our particular sound.
Some of the songs on ‘Tales From Terra Firma’ seem to have been inspired by specific places, particularly ‘Farewell Appalachia’. The songs in general use a lot of visual imagery, both in the lyrics and the instrumental parts. Can you talk a bit about the places or scenes that inspired some of the songs, or about the kind of imagery you were trying to convey?
‘The Great Procrastinator’ mentions English places like Offa’s Dyke in Oxfordshire, there are 2 live songs ‘Waiting on the Clock’ and ‘When You Touch Down From Outer Space’, which name check much of Oxford Town… and of course ‘Zorbing’ mentions Cowley where we formed as a band, and encompasses the venues where our fellow Oxford bands Radiohead, Foals and Supergrass all started gigging. It’s a town we feel strongly rooted to, welcoming and inspiring.
‘Farewell Appalachia’ is actually dedicated to a band we saw many years ago. It was written on the Appalachian Trail, but doesn’t contain much specific mention of the place. In this case we wanted to convey the outdoors using music without specifying location in the lyric.
‘Knock Me on the Head’ has a very definite nautical feeling about it. The clear imagery and the infectiously singable chorus make this the most accessible, radio-friendly song on ‘Tales From Terra Firma’. Did you intentionally write it as a single, or did you decide that after the album was written?
Decided it after…we actually recorded about 20 tracks for the disc, and picked out the best of them for the release, based on what linked to tell a story. This just seemed the poppiest and most representative out of that shortlist.
The lyrics are partially informed by “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, which also inspired the video (the song is reviewed here; watch the video here); it tells of a hermit, wedding guest, mariner and various other characters being involved in a sea voyage… There is hope and disaster and we hope the song presents that duality convincingly.
It’s one of the first times we’ve used melodic motifs to represent particular characters and recurring ideas; pop songs are mostly too short to do this, so we had to fill it to the brim with hooks and harmonies. This may be why it took us a whole year to finish! Personally it reminds me of the soundtrack to Asterix in Britain, one of my favourite films as a kid.
Finally, you’re about to embark on a tour of the UK (in fact, by the time you read this, you may already be touring). Do you have any further tour plans for the rest of 2013? Summer festivals? Our American readers (myself included) would be especially interested in any possible American dates?
We are very excited to be announcing some North American dates very soon. [There are plans for] UK festivals including Green Man and Latitude, and hopefully Australia later in the year. Rob and I have many family and school friends in South Africa, so our dream is to tour there. If we can get them buying the album, we’ll be sent out there… so South Africans, get on iTunes now please!
Many thanks to Oli for answering our many questions and Jonathan for helping us sort this for us.